Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday (Sheer Thursday)

The pope's getting a lot of press these days (and well he should) because he won't stop washing people's feet. Footwashing is profound, incredibly moving. I remember the first time I participated in a serious foot washing, it was at a YouthWorks mission trip in Lodge Grass, Montana. Having served for a week alongside two other youth groups, we gathered on Thursday evening for prayer, and then we all washed each other's feet.

Some people were so overcome with emotion they couldn't stop crying an hour later. A couple of people, because feet are sensitive to them, had to abstain. But generally speaking, it was one of the most sacramental experiences I've ever had.

This night, Maundy Thursday, our congregation re-enacts the foot washing in miniature. A representative group from our congregation will come forward and wash each other's feet. There are plenty of ways to do this. Some communities everyone participates. In others it is representative. I don't think there's any need to get legalistic... much depends on context and culture.

I do believe the point is the mutuality of it, the reconciliation, the servant posture. Earlier in the Maundy Thursday service, the church conducts a liturgy that is equally counter-cultural. We confess our sins, and receive laying on of hands and individual absolution. the liturgy goes like this:

Friends in Christ, in this Lenten season we have heard our Lord's call to struggle against sin, death, and the devil--all that keeps us from loving God and each other. This is the struggle to which we were called at baptism. We have shared this discipline with new brothers and sisters in Christ who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.
Within the community of the church, God never wearies of forgiving sin and giving the peace of reconciliation. On this night let us confession our sin against God and our neighbor, and enter the celebration of the great Three Days with God and with one another.
All kneel or sit for silence and reflection.
Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
Then the presider announces: In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
People may come forward for the laying on of hands, to hear these words: In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Amen.
There is something immensely powerful about hearing someone speak words over you: I forgive you. We need to hear those words on the lips of someone else.

Certainly we can play them as a tape in our own minds and hearts, and Christ hears our confession even if we simply pray it alone in our room. But just like the sentence--I love you--spoken by the beloved hits us more existentially than simply imagining them saying it, so too hearing someone commanded by Christ to announce forgiveness carries great weight.

And the hands. Don't forget the hands. I so look forward this evening to the moment after laying hands on others when I will kneel, and a pastor or assisting minister will stand above me, lay hands on my head, and speak those words. They are powerful words. They do things. They are life. It is why this day is sometimes in some places called Sheer Thursday, because the sheer grace of it all shears off our sins and makes us new again in love.

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